Money Is Tainted

Yitro tells Moses that only people of integrity, who themselves would never engage in legally questionable business dealings, are qualified to serve as judges.

Commentary on Parashat Yitro, Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

It has almost become cliched. Yitro (Jethro), Moses‘ father-in-law, has become the biblical prototype for that ubiquitous ’90s phenomenon — the management consultant. You know, the “expert” that offers you advice, collects a hefty fee and then leaves. Being related by marriage, Yitro foregoes the fee, but suggests a design for the tribal judicial system. His advice is taken, and now all management consultants can say when asked, “What is it that you actually do?” can answer, “See Exodus 18, we’re one of the world’s oldest professions.”

The job description offered in Shemot for those who are supposed to relieve Moses of some of his judicial duties is given as follows:

“You are to have men of vision (to select) from all the people, men of caliber, holding God in awe, men of truth, hating gain…” (Exodus 18:21)

Your Torah Navigator

1. This is a job description for the judges of Israel. Go through the list and try to discern why each of these qualities is necessary.

2. What does “hating gain” mean? Why is that important?

3. What does “men of caliber” mean?

Rashi says:

One must hate the possibility of being litigated against in court, so he must hate his own money in this instance. As it is written in Tractate Baba Batra, “Any judge who has money exacted from him in court, cannot be considered a judge.”

Your Rashi Navigator

1. Isn’t it possible that a court and the judge could have a legitimate difference of opinion? Why does this disqualify a judge from the bench?

2. Why is this considered the definition for “hating gain?”

3. When you read the verse did you think that this is what Yitro was describing?

A Word

Here is the job description of a public servant. The person must be a visionary, a person of stature, a person who feels subject to God a greater power, a person of integrity who hates gain.

Rashi, the most authoritative and popular of traditional commentators offers an interesting perspective. This judge, he says, must hate the idea of being suspected of illicit behavior in financial dealings. He would never engage in any business practice that would have the potential to be legally questionable.

Rashi says the judge must have contempt for the behavior that brings these questions before him. The judge must understand that the process is necessary but profoundly regrettable that financial differences need be resolved in such a painful, and time consuming fashion.

Only one who finds this recourse distasteful is worthy of giving this relief to others. The one who bears the qualities of vision, truth, integrity, and Godliness must also be the one with perspective. He must realize that if he were to be a defendant who had lost the case in the courtroom of another, he has crossed the line and is no longer a credible judge for anyone else.

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

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